Captain America’s comic had gotten pretty routine by the time Mark Gruenwald showed up in 1985, which is probably why no one suspected he would turn in a decade-long run that would redefine Cap and his gallery of rogues for years to come!
Captain America by Mark Gruenwald, Vol. 1 is the #45 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus of 2017 on Tigereyes’s Secret Ballot. Visit the Marvel Masterworks Message Board to view the original posting of results by Tigereyes.
Past Ranking: A 2017 debut!
Creators: Written by Mark Gruenwald with pencils by Paul Neary, Tom Morgan, and Kieron Dwyer.
Probable Contents: Collects Captain America (1968) #307-350 & Annual 8 and Iron Man #228.
Based on the recent Society of Serpents Epic Collection starting from the tail end of Carlin’s run at #302, it’s possible we’d see this volume begin there as well.
That’s a hefty omnibus, and for good reason – it would take two more volumes of similar size to make it through Gruenwald’s entire run of Captain America! See 10 Marvel runs from the 80s that ought to be omnibuses – 1981 to 1989 for more details.
Can you read it right now? Yes! The entirety of this run is covered in a pair of Epic Collections and an older trade. Visit the Guide to Captain America for details. Also, the entirety of this run is on Marvel Unlimited!
Mark Gruenwald revitalized Captain America without an ounce of cynicism and irony, and he did it by being true to the character and introducing a parade of compelling new supporting players and villains. Even the biggest gimmick of the first third of his run – Steve Rogers quitting as Cap – doesn’t play as a gimmick because it’s so true to his character.
Writers of today, take note.
Gruenwald takes over for departing writer Mike Carlin on #307 with a subtle turn, picking up from Carlin’s prior team-up with Captain Britain. That sense of continuity on a creator change isn’t something we see as much today.
Although the first page proclaims that it’s the start of “a bold new era for America’s greatest hero,” Gruenwald doesn’t start with an obvious shake-up … although, he does introduce current-day Deadpool associate Madcap in his first issue. Nomad remains intact in the supporting cast, as does Cap’s fiancé, Bernie.
However, the final panel of that issue brings in members of the Serpent Society. They are a band of somewhat-silly, largely-female, snake-themed villains created for a Marvel Team-Up adventure in 1980 who had only appeared again twice in the intervening five years.
Gruenwald makes his changes by degrees, jettisoning Nomad and putting Bernie on a hiatus while bringing his prodigious creativity to bear upon refreshing Captain America’s rogue’s gallery. He introduced the ideological anti-Cap of Flag-Smasher and his ULTIMATUM and the lumbering and somewhat pitiful Armadillo. He dropped long-gestating hints of the murderous villain Scourge and made a signature recurring foe of the Serpent Society. With the Society came another of Gruenwald’s creations, Diamondback, who would grow to be one of Cap’s major supporting players.
He did all of that in the first ten issues of his run – and that’s before he introduces the future U.S. Agent and adopts D-Man from the end of The Thing.
Quite suddenly, Cap changed from a run-of-the-mill book that didn’t cause much excitement to a rollicking adventure with a stacked gallery of rogues. And, the hits kept on coming as Gruenwald leaned in to his decade-long run.
Carlin’s artist Paul Neary continues on with Gruenwald through issue #331. Neary is an under-appreciated creator. His joining Cap with #292 marked his first American superhero work, though he had been toiling on Marvel UK magazines for as long as they had existed, and horror comics before that.
Neary is a perfect example of 80s pencils from before Jim Lee and the Image crew’s bombast broke the curve for steady workmen. He draws Cap large, lanterned-jawed, and dimple-chinned in a pleasing way that immediately feels on-model.
At points Neary gives hints of John Byrne, but really his strength is in the grounded anatomy of his characters. Even in mid-fight contortions and low camera angles, the realistic musculature of his figure-work makes Steve’s strength really come through. Terrific, bold primary colors from Ken Feduniewicz certainly help.
Tom Morgan and Kieron Dwyer follow his run on pencils. Both are fine, but neither have Neary’s magic – though Dwyer settles into the role towards the end of this run.
What strikes me about this first third of Gruenwald’s run is how marvelously uncool it is. While other Marvel books began to accelerate towards more extreme art and tangled plots that would peak in the early 90s, Captain America feels … purer?
That’s certainly the case when he walks out on the title of Captain America in what boils down to a contract dispute and back taxes. Steve Rogers abandoning his star-spangled cowl never once feels like a gimmick. His replacement John Walker is a certified asshole but still a fierce patriot. He figures things out as he goes- and he’s training with villains like Taskmaster and X-Men’s Freedom Force.
Mark Gruenwald made Cap exciting without trying to make him cool, but with thirty years of hindsight that might be the coolest part of this magnificent initial run, which snakes back around to refer to its earliest issues with the climax in #350.
Oh, and Cap punches a bear.
Will we see this omnibus in 2018? No.
Hear me out – Marvel is now experimenting with the cadences of Epic Collections to omnibuses. We just saw them make that leap on Amazing Spider-Man. While the Epics were pitched as gap-fillers for runs with holes, they’re doubling as affordable market research. You better believe when any pair of Epics achieves better than average sales Marvel’s sales spidey-sense perks up and they start thinking about other formats they can hit with the same material.
The second Gruenwald Epic Collection just hit a few weeks ago, so we’ll likely be awaiting another year before we get a third one that would complete the run of issues int his omnibus. That means Marvel probably won’t get to it until 2019 or later – but, I have no doubt we’ll eventually see it.
Would I recommend buying it? I’m torn on it this one. It’s a fantastic run, and the first 20 or so issues are magical. However, after Neary departs I’m not sure that the art is strong enough to make the case for owning it oversized rather than just picking up the Epics.
The 2017 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus Secret Ballot Results
- #60 – What If? Classic Omnibus, Vol. 1
- #59 – House of M Omnibus
- #58 – Captain Marvel by Peter David, Vol. 1
- #57 – X-Force by Kyle & Yost
- #56 – Namor, The Sub-Mariner, Vol. 1
- #55 – X-Force, Vol. 3 AKA Cable & X-Force, Vol. 1
- #54 – Conan The Barbarian, Vol. 1
- #53 – Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron
- #52 – Incredible Hercules by Pak & Van Lente
- #51 – Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Vol. 1
- #50 – Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch, Vol. 1
- #49 – Captain America (Silver Age), Vol. 3
- #48 – Doctor Strange by Roger Stern
- #47 – Marvel Horror of the 1970s
- #46 – Killraven
- #45 – Captain America by Mark Gruenwald, Vol. 1
- #44 – Runways by Brian K. Vaughan